Mitch Perry, Author at Florida Politics - Page 4 of 389

Mitch Perry

Mitch Perry has been a reporter with Extensive Enterprises since November of 2014. Previously, he served five years as political editor of the alternative newsweekly Creative Loafing. Mitch also was assistant news director with WMNF 88.5 FM in Tampa from 2000-2009, and currently hosts MidPoint, a weekly talk show, on WMNF on Thursday afternoons. He began his reporting career at KPFA radio in Berkeley and is a San Francisco native who has lived in Tampa since 2000. Mitch can be reached at

In Tampa, Rick Scott remains noncommittal on signing law to arm teachers

In Tampa Wednesday, Gov. Rick Scott continued a statewide tour touting his proposed $500 million to make Florida’s public schools safer in the aftermath of the massacre at Stoneman Douglas High School two weeks ago.

The Governor’s plan includes putting law enforcement officers in every Florida public school, assembling a “threat-assessment team” that would embed a member of the Department of Children and Families in every local sheriff’s department.

Scott’s recommended team would work with officials from school districts and the Department of Juvenile Justice to prevent people struggling with a mental illness from acquiring a firearm. He is also calling for hiring more mental health counselors and providing additional mental health resources.

Notably, Scott’s plan does not include arming schoolteachers, a controversial proposal that has been a part of school safety packages making way through both the Florida House and Senate.

“I believe our law enforcement ought to do their job, and our teachers oughta teach,” Scott told a pack of reporters Wednesday morning at the Hillsborough County Sheriffs Office in east Tampa.

Scott, as he did Tuesday in Miami — and undoubtedly later Wednesday in Jacksonville — would not say what he will do if the school safety bill that passes the Legislature next week and arrives on his desk includes funding for what is being called the “Marshal Program” to train and arm school staff.

“I’ll review the bill, but I believe that law enforcement should be doing public safety, and teachers oughta be teaching.”

Another discrepancy between the Governor and the Legislature is that the House and Senate include a three-day waiting period to purchase military-style semi-automatic rifles.

“With regard to the waiting period, It wouldn’t have changed anything here. I want to do the things that have an actual impact,” Scott said, repeating he is looking to change the law that will have an impact.

The Marshall plan calls for arming teachers in schools if district superintendents or school boards approve of such a policy. Hillsborough County School Superintendent Jeff Eakins says he backs the governor’s stance on the issue, not the Legislature’s.

“I think security and law enforcement should do their jobs and I think our teachers should be doing their jobs,” Eakins said. “No school district should be forced to do that. This should be a discussion locally — school board, law enforcement, we should all be seeing what’s best for the community, and it shouldn’t be jumping to arming our teachers.”

Although a $500 million program with just a week and a half before the legislative session is scheduled to end is a big ask, Scott says that Florida is blessed because the state has a surplus that will allow them to spend so much to harden schools and prevent the mentally ill from getting firearms.

He deferred questions that such funding would require reallocating funds from other discretionary spending.

Scott came up with his plan after consulting with educators, parents and law enforcement officials, such as Hillsborough County Sheriff Chad Chronister and Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri, both of whom were in attendance.

In introducing Scott, Chronister thanked him for “not taking any knee-jerk, emotional actions in light of the Parkland tragedy, but instead developing a common-sense approach keeping our children, our schools, and our community safe.”

Attorney General Pam Bondi said the state will now have a “see something, say something” hotline, website and app for students to anonymously report overheard threats, suicides or bullying.

While such a program may make it easier to report troubling behavior, it was well-reported that various local, state and federal agencies did have advance knowledge the Parkland shooter, Nikolas Cruz, was disturbed and threatened to become violent.

“I don’t care what happened in this instance, from now on, it will be given the attention it deserves,” Bondi insisted about the new app/hotline.

When asked why he’s not going after assault weapons or high capacity magazines, Scott said the answer was not to ban specific weapons but specific people from having such weapons. He mentioned Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh, the Boston Marathon bomber, and terrorists in the U.S. and overseas who have used U-Haul trucks to mow down people on the streets.

“I want to focus on the people who we can track,” Scott said. “There’s evidence what they’re going to do. Let’s focus on them.”

A poll taken since the Parkland shooting shows about 70 percent of Florida residents want more restrictions on guns, and 56 percent do not want to arm teachers, the South Florida Sun-Sentinel reports.

Marco Rubio upside down in new Q poll, especially with Hispanics

Marco Rubio had a rough night last week in Sunrise, where he faced a lion’s den of hostile voters during a CNN live town-hall meeting featuring family members and friends of the victims of the massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland the week before.

Rubio apparently isn’t too popular with the rest of the state either, as a new Quinnipiac Poll released Tuesday shows that only 38 percent of Floridians surveyed currently support the Republican lawmaker, with 55 percent opposing him. Nine percent did not have an opinion.

The survey of 1,156 Florida voters was conducted Friday, Feb. 23-Monday, Feb. 26, days after Rubio took a verbal beating from angry Broward County residents, some of whom accused him of being a sell-out to the National Rifle Association.

When pressed by Cameron Kasky, a student who survived the shooting at Douglas High, Rubio declined on multiple occasions to say whether he would accept future contributions.

Instead, he insisted over the booing and groaning in the crowd that he does not buy into the agendas of outside organizations and that they instead have to support his.

Rubio notably did say that he was open to reconsidering his position on the size of magazine clips, a chief policy prescription that gun control advocates favor.

He also said that he believes that nobody under the age of 21 should be able to buy a gun, and broke with other Republicans in saying that he did not believe that teachers should be armed.

Rubio, a Cuban-American, is not faring well with Hispanic voters either in the new survey. Only 27 percent of those polled support him, while 66 percent say they disapprove of his performance.

Rubio was re-elected to the Senate in November 2016, defeating Democratic Rep. Patrick Murphy, 52 percent-44 percent.

Say what? U.S. News ranks Florida only No. 15 in nation

Florida lawmakers and tourism agencies are quick to boast that the Sunshine State is by far the best state in the nation.

U.S. News and World Report disagrees.

According to the second annual 2018 Best States study, the digital news organization ranks Florida fifteenth of the 50 U.S. states.

Number one? Iowa.

This year’s rankings were based on 77 metrics across eight categories, the publication said.

In calculating the rankings, each classification was weighted “based on the average of two years of data from an annual national survey that asked a total of more than 30,000 people to prioritize each subject in their state.”

In order of importance to the total rank, 2018’s subjects were: health care, education, economy, opportunity, infrastructure, crime and corrections, fiscal stability, and quality of life.

Florida scored highest on two economic measures: third in fiscal stability, and fifth on the economy (the state’s current unemployment rate is at 3.7 percent, 20th best in the nation).

In another coup for Republican lawmakers who have controlled the state Capitol for two decades, education was listed as seventh nationwide.

“Opportunity” was the state’s worst ranking, finishing 36th. The second lowest was health care, as the nation’s third-largest state was ranked 34th.

“U.S. News & World Report is well-known for producing in-depth, data-driven rankings in education and health care that help people make key life decisions,” said U.S. News & World Report Chair Eric Gertler. “In evaluating the best states in the nation, we have combined trusted, high-quality data with the power of journalism to fill the current gap in local reporting, and ultimately to empower citizens, business leaders and policymakers to engage in improving their states.”

The entire list of the 50 states is here.

Jay Fant wants second investigation of Broward Sheriff’s Department over Parkland shooting

Attorney General candidate Jay Fant wants a second investigation, including convening a grand jury, into the local response to the Parkland school massacre.

Even though Gov. Rick Scott has already tasked the Florida Department of Law Enforcement to look into local law enforcement’s response to the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting, the Jacksonville Republican lawmaker is now asking the Broward County State Attorney to begin his own inquiry into the event.

Broward County Sheriff Scott Israel faces increasing scrutiny for his agency’s response before, during and after the Feb. 14 incident.

Recently released records reportedly show the BSO responded to nearly 50 calls about Nikolas Cruz or his brother in the 10 years before Cruz went on his shooting spree at his former high school. According to CNN, call logs from the sheriff’s office show that between 2008 and 2017, authorities received 45 calls relating to Cruz or his brother.

Reasons for the calls range from “domestic disturbance” to “missing person” to “animal abuse”.

“Sheriff Israel and his deputies have failed their community,” Fant wrote Tuesday to Broward County State Attorney Michael Satz. “They failed before the shooting to properly identify and deal with the threat, despite at least 18 calls warning them that Nikolas Cruz planned to shoot up the school.

“They failed the day of the shooting when at least one deputy, and possibly more, failed to enter the building protect the students. I fear that without an independent, outside investigative body, they may fail us again.”

Fant concludes by advising Satz to reassign the investigation to another prosecutor if his office is stretched too thin with other matters to investigate BSO properly.

Last-hour effort to delay USF System consolidation fails

Ever since legislation calling for consolidating the University of South Florida System was unveiled in mid-January, officials from the St. Petersburg community have raised serious objections.

The bill, sponsored by Estero Republican Ray Rodrigues (HB 423), would make USF St. Petersburg and USF Sarasota-Manatee operate separately from the main campus in Tampa under its own accreditation. USFSP received accreditation in 2006 and USFSM followed suit in 2011, creating the USF System.

As the bill was introduced in the House Education Committee Tuesday afternoon, two Pinellas lawmakers introduced amendments that would improve the fate of USFSP.

St. Petersburg Democrat Ben Diamond‘s amendment was the more dramatic measure, effectively putting consolidation efforts on hold for another year.

It would appoint a study committee, comprised of students, faculty members and administrators from all three USF campuses, as well as members of the business community, to study consolidation of the separate campuses. They would then write a report and submit it to the Legislature before the 2019 session begins.

“My concern with what we’re doing … is that there hasn’t been the community discussion in Pinellas County yet as to this consolidation,” Diamond said. “I’m concerned that we’re rushing into this before we have a chance to hear from our community.”

Diamond then read off a host of local groups he said were extremely concerned about consolidation, namely the Pinellas County Commission, the St. Petersburg Chamber of Commerce and the Pinellas County Economic Development Agency.

The St. Petersburg Democrat said he personally had several questions he believed needed additional vetting: What are the admission standards at each university? How will consolidation affect the curriculum? How is the governance structure changed if they are not separately accredited institutions?

But Rodrigues rejected his gambit, saying he believed that USF Tampa was on the verge of making “preeminence,” the state designation that rewards Florida’s top universities with millions of dollars. Such a delay would prevent Manatee-Sarasota and USFSP from enjoying the bounties of that achievement.

“All students that get a degree that says USF will be benefitting from that preeminence,” Rodrigues told the committee. “If we delay, then the money that is going to come to the University of South Florida would be invested in Tampa, because those would be the only students that have contributed to the metrics that have made them preeminent.”

Rodrigues added that USF System President Judy Genshaft and the state’s Board of Governors support his bill.

While the Diamond amendment went down to defeat (with Pinellas Republicans Chris Latvala and Larry Ahern voting no), Rodrigues did encourage the committee to back  Ahern’s amendment that would make USFSP and USFSM official USF campuses and not universities by 2020.

It also requires the USF board of trustees to publish a “biennial regional impact report,” which would get into the specifics of how USF is funding programs across its three counties.

That accountability report will also have to include statistics about research and infrastructure, student access to new degree programs and any changes in how students are performing and enrolling, among other things.

Newly elected Sarasota County Democrat Margaret Good asked what the harm was in delaying the implementation of the consolidation for another year to allow for a study to be conducted.

Rodrigues stuck to his previously declared bottom line: USF was approaching preeminence, and it’d be a shame if the St. Petersburg and Sarasota-Manatee universities couldn’t share in the money that comes with that distinction.

On Fox News, Richard Corcoran boasts of ‘marshal program’

Despite the outcries of parents and educators, the House appears poised to pass a school defense program that Speaker Richard Corcoran calls a “game-changer.”

The “Marshal Program,” as it’s been dubbed, would allow law enforcement to train and deputize someone who would be allowed to have a concealed weapon while on campus.

“If we have the Marshal Program, now you have 10, 15, 20, 30 people, you have signs out front that say, ‘Hey, these children, these precious resources, they’re being protected by sworn law enforcement officers with greater training than the policemen and the sheriff’s deputy we have out there right now,” Corcoran told Fox News’ Bill Hemmer Tuesday morning.

Corcoran also once again blasted Broward County Sheriff Scott Israel, who is now being investigated by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement.

He reportedly failed to follow up on information provided to his department about the Parkland shooter. There have also been reports that more than one of Israel’s deputies may have failed to engage the shooter while he was inside Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.

The Broward County Sheriff’s Office is also conducting an internal investigation into its response to the shooting.

Corcoran seemed to compare that deputy, Scot Petersen, with, well, some other people unidentified people in Tallahassee (he didn’t specify whom) that he claimed were ducking leadership.

“Leadership is everything. Especially in a crisis. When you have a crisis like this, it’s when leaders should step up, work with all parties and figure out a way to solve the problem,” Corcoran said.

He added about Israel: “He’s showing abject failure in leadership.”

“We see it even in the state. We’ve got people ducking down hallways, running into their office. Nobody wants to be on record on how do you solve this problem. (What) we, Gov. (Rick) Scott, President (Donald) Trump, we’re saying here is, the solutions of how we can fix it so that every school child in Florida is safe from here to forward. That this never happens again.”

‘Manners’ time: Republican John Houman still running for SD 20

With Thonotosassa Republican state Sen. Tom Lee widely expected to leave his Senate District 20 seat in Hillsborough County sometime after the Legislative Session ends to run for Chief Financial Officer, who will take his place?

Tampa’s Shawn Harrison and Zephryhills’ Danny Burgess are two names that have been floated. But there’s already a Republican in the race: John Houman.

You may know him by his nickname: “Mr. Manners.”

Houman ran two years ago as a Republican in the heavily Democratic Senate District 19, where he received over 55,000 votes before losing to Democrat Darryl Rouson by 63-37 percent.

After that drubbing, he came back and filed in January 2017 for the SD 20 seat, where he has raised no money despite being an official candidate for the past year.

Houman writes on his website that for most folks, manners “means no f–ting or picking your nose.”

But “manner’s [sic] are the way we interact with each other,” he writes. “The way we communicate with the people around us about our feeling on interpersonal relationship’s [sic].”

Houman says that he believes in “decriminalizing non-violent crimes,” says he’s pro-life, believes in government oversight, and calls for changing the legal drinking age in Florida to 18, but for active-duty service members only.

“If you’re brave enough to serve your country, your [sic] man or woman enough to drink in Florida!” he writes.

Campaigning: Democrats blast GOP after assault weapons ban fails

The politics of guns in Florida has rapidly changed since the Valentine’s Day shooting in Parkland.

Two Senate Republicans up for re-election this fall were hammered by their Democratic opponents Monday night following a Senate committee vote defeating a Democratic amendment to ban semi-automatic rifles.

Tampa attorney Bob Buesing has vowed to be more aggressive in taking the case to Senate District 18 Republican Dana Young. He attacked her following Monday’s vote by the Senate Rules Committee—which, by the way, Young does not serve on.

“In the twelve days since the horrific mass shooting unfolded in Parkland, Dana Young has done nothing, and her silence is deafening,” Buesing said in a statement. “An A-rated NRA politician herself, she would rather appease our state’s gun lobby than take action to protect its schoolchildren.”

Young spokesperson Sarah Bascom responded on Tuesday.

“Senator Dana Young does not sit on the Rules Committee and, therefore, has not had an opportunity to weigh in,” she said. “Bob Buesing is sadly making this tragedy a political issue, and it’s quite frankly disgusting that he is focused on political press releases right now.”

Gainesville Republican Keith Perry does sit on the committee, which voted down Miami Democrat Jose Javier Rodriguez‘s amendment on banning assault weapons.

Dr. Kayser Enneking, one of the Democrats running to oppose him in Senate District 8 this fall, said afterward that Perry had “failed our community” by voting down measures banning assault weapons and bump stocks.

“As a parent, I am sick knowing that the door is left open for weapons of mass lethality to continue to threaten our children and communities,” he said. “As a doctor, I am horrified that Sen. Perry voted to allow the continued sale of weapons that are designed to leave no hope of survival.”

Since serving in the Legislature beginning in 2011, the Gainesville Republican has voted in support of 10 of 11 gun-related bills, according to the Gainesville Sun.

There are at least five Parkland-related bills set for consideration before the House and Senate appropriations committees Tuesday.

House advances proposed Water Street Tampa special district

On Monday, a House committee advanced Hillsborough County’s proposal to create a special district for funding some features of the $3 billion Water Street Tampa development in the city’s Channelside neighborhood.

The House Government Accountability Committee unanimously approved HB 1393 that creates the Water Street Tampa Improvement District. Advancing the proposal are Strategic Property Partners and Cascade Investments. Tampa Republican Jamie Grant is sponsoring the bill.

Water Street Tampa has become one of the most eagerly awaited private developments in Tampa ever. At completion, it will represent 9 million square feet and include the first new office towers created in Tampa in nearly 25 years as well as retail, educational and entertainment space.

The special improvement district allows an appointed board to levy special assessments on commercial properties. The five-member board could also levy a millage rate up to one mil — $1 per $1,000 of assessed value.

“The special district would consist largely one entity owning all of the property, having the ability with a board approval vote to levy an assessment only on commercial tenants, with an expressed exclusion of any residential tenant,” Grant told the committee.

When the bill came before the Hillsborough County Legislative Delegation last November in Plant City, state Sen. Dana Young said that the developers of Water Street Tampa could use the taxes they levy to “install and operate and maintain upscale amenities and infrastructure within the district that are far above and beyond what the city of Tampa would be able to do.”

Young, a Tampa Republican, added that they would be able to do so at no cost to city taxpayers.

Amenities could include bus shelters, enhanced landscapes and bike paths.

Taxpayer money has been previously used to help pay for fixing infrastructure in the area around the development.

Tampa’s City Council voted in January 2015 for $30 million to reimburse Strategic Property Partners for realigning roads, adding sidewalks, improving drainage and burying power cables in Channelside. Half of the funds came from Downtown Community Redevelopment Area (CRA), which allows property taxes to be reinvested into the area they came from; the rest came from Hillsborough County’s share of those taxes by way of an agreement with the city.

Ted Deutch introduces legislation to ban assault weapons

Keeping a promise he made to the brother of a student killed in the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting, U.S. Rep. Ted Deutch introduced legislation to create the Assault Weapons Ban of 2018.

Filing the bill Monday, Deutch, a Boca Raton Democrat, was joined by David Cicilline of Rhode Island and 153 other Democrats.

On Valentine’s Day, a troubled teen gunman using an AR-15 assault rifle killed 14 students and three teachers at the school in the community of Parkland, located in Deutch’s Broward County district.

“Americans don’t own tanks or missiles; so why should our streets be flooded with weapons of war made for the sole purpose of killing people? The Stoneman Douglas community is still reeling from this awful tragedy. But they want and deserve action from Congress,” Deutch said Monday.

“Banning assault weapons isn’t a Democratic idea, nor is it new; President [RonaldReagan supported the initial ban, which expired in 2004,” he continued. “Most Americans support the assault weapons ban. Now it’s time for Congress to listen and pass sensible legislation to get these weapons of war off our streets.”

The legislation seeks to prohibit the sale, transfer, production, and import of semi-automatic rifles and handguns with a military-style feature that can accept a detachable magazine; semi-automatic rifles and handguns with a fixed magazine that can hold more than 10 rounds; semi-automatic shotguns with a military-style features; any ammunition feeding device that can hold more than 10 rounds, and 205 specifically named and listed firearms.

“Assault weapons were made for one purpose. They are designed to kill as many people as possible in a short amount of time. They do not belong in our communities,” Cicilline said. “I am proud to introduce the Assault Weapons Ban with the support of leaders in law enforcement. It’s on all of us to end this carnage.”

Deutch previewed the legislation during a town hall meeting last week in Broward County that aired on CNN. At that time, the congressman promised Ryan Schachter, a student at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School whose 14-year-old brother, Alex, died in the attack, he would file the bill this week.

“We’re going to introduce legislation to make sure that assault weapons are illegal in every part of this country,” Deutch said to applause from the crowd of 7,000 gathered at the BB&T Center in Sunrise.

In a USA Today poll released over the weekend, 63 percent of respondents believe weapons like the AR-15 should be banned. The poll did not indicate if those surveyed support a full ban on all semi-automatic weapons.

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